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Cause Strategy

It may be my age, it may be my level of wisdom, it may be age….didn’t I just say that…but a great many of my strategies lately contain an undercurrent of cause marketing. It’s as if my brief also has a line that says “What about this strategy will make the world a better place?” Back in the day my briefs were more likely to have the line “What about this strategy will sell more product, faster, regardless of consequence?”

My new approach certainly is intended sell more product, but it comes in an envelope of comfortable altruism. This new found reliance on educating over selling, undergirds my strategies. “An educated consumer” as they say.

Strategies that are more cause reliant take advantage of cultural context. Cause strategies feel more human. So what do we do with Axe? How do we package Coors Light? Geico?  We do what we always do — but now we think more positively about people, planet and how our persuasion is a positive force. Bang (not a gun ban either).


PS. For examples of cause strategies for products write steve at whatstheidea.




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To date, branding has been about setting consumer expectation. We use ads and customer experiences to create an expectation of what will happen when we use a product. With L’Oreal, our hair color is movie star beautiful. Purchasing Apple products makes us tech-forward. Insurance from Geico saves us 15%.

I call this approach benefit pounding. We recite and repeat the benefit and hope it sticks. It’s an age old branding trick that serves up an idea ad nauseam, hoping for a resonance. Benefit pounding for many brands has become context. I watched a Google insights (little i) YouTube video with David Droga yesterday and he smartly talked about context. He suggested we get to know the context consumers are bringing to their consumption of our marketing messages, before we start building. It’s good tradecraft. Context 101 dictates that marketers and branders deal with benefit pounding…and use it to their advantage. Sure we can hide our “pound” in a story, but consumers are conditioned for see through it. Obvert it, invert it. It’s good theater.

Proper brand design sets the benefit topography. It frees smart creative people to deliver benefits in more unexpected, context-breaking ways.




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Google is getting onto the car insurance business. It’s called Google Compare. Near term they will act as the search engine for best cost policies. When they eventually roll out the program nationally (it’s been tested in England and launches in California), it won’t need much of a national TV ad budget. They are Google after all. We use Google 5 times a day. And more importantly, everybody knows Google is search. It’s not a massive behavior change.

Insurance is one of the bigger national advertising categories thanks to Geico, AllState and Progressive. When Google gets in to the mix and doesn’t need to spend huge money on ads there will be a great price advantage for them. If they siphon off car insurance business from the big guys, the ad budgets of the big guys will diminish. (Thank you Jesus.)

Many checks that used to go to newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations are going Google these days. And as Google funds new businesses like insurance, it will put even more strain on traditional and digital revenue. Wait this they start underwriting insurance. They have the appetite for it. It’s the future.



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iSpot is Tres Cool.

iSpot is a new ad tracking platform that marries TV spot appearances and spending with an overlay of online sharing activity.  It’s a brilliant idea. (Oh, happy New Year’s Eve, by the way.) During my time at McCann while spending big bucks on TV advertising for AT&T, the tracking people always paired weekly spend with the revenue it generated. I always marveled at how the revenue lagged the spend by a week or two. This lag was the case for most consumer packaged goods. It’s interesting to note that according to iSpot there’s a similar lag in social sharing of TV spots.  Most shares of the Geico “Hump Day” and Samsung Galaxy Gear spots were not on the night of the ads, but a few days after. Check out the metrics.

My problem with social, and I know it works trust me, is that what we are often measuring is divorced from sales.  Clicks. Likes. Shares. Views.  iSpot’s new platform provides data feed that should plug in nicely to sales reports. Como se holy grail?

Readers of Whats The Idea? know about Twitch Point Planning — a twitch being a media moment when one engages a separate device for additional information, learning or sharing.  iSpot is a platform with a chance to make Twitch Point Planning a prime time tool. And vice versa. Stay tuned in 2014.

Peace be upon you.  

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Storytelling in advertising and marketing is the haps. The narrative. The customer journey. These approaches refer to getting consumers onboard without direct selling. Direct selling being “me, me, me” advertising versus storytelling which is you, you, you — always a more thoughtful approach. An approach much harder to get funded by marketing officers.

Agencies like storytelling because it creates buildables. Video is big. A friend of mine with a women’s sneaker company tells me “everyone keeps calling trying to sell me video.” BBDO has a Lowes Vines story on its website, boasting of effective 6 second Vines videos that only cost Lowes $5,000.

I’m down with storytelling. And video. And the digital journey through an assortment of buildables. But I’m more down with strategy. Or moving consumers to the moral of the story –what one feels about a brand as a result of all the work. And it’s not just a click or a product purchase, it’s the why. I bought a Coke because I wanted refreshment. I bought a Krispy Kreme donut because I deserved a treat.

Story telling is good but branding is more like crescendo building. Moving custies closer to full on purposeful love. Geico, could take a note or two here. Peace.

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If I met you for the first time and asked  “Describe yourself to me” what might your answer be?  If I were to ask a consumer a similar question about Langone Medical Center, what might they say?  “They are the NYU hospital.”  Or that’s the hospital with the purple ads.”  How about this question “Describe for me PNC Bank” or “Describe Volkswagen to me.”

Top recall explanations are telling. They are not deal breakers as it relates to purchase behavior – we buy things and brands we don’t know all the time – but those explanations share what is most important to the consumer at that time.   Two things drive first response associations for consumers: product experience and marketing communications.  Readers know that an organized brand plan has powerful impact on the latter.  If all internal and external dollars are used to support a tight strategy, consumers are able to play back that strategy.  “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.”  What reader may not know is that a tight brand strategy also impacts the product, offering ways forward for new features, line extensions, aftercare, etc.

The opposite of a tight, embedded brand strategy is every man for himself. And when that happens you become the company with the purple ads or the company that has banking on the mobile phone. Don’t allow that to happen. Peace!

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Is it better to gamify learning or learnify gaming? Is if better to gamify war or warify games? Perhaps I just enjoy being contrarian but I’m growing a bit tired of the gamify word.  Games are contests…with winners and losers.  Not everything in life needs to be so.  Art isn’t a game.  Science isn’t a game. Business isn’t a game.

Gaming is a trend that marketers are grabbing hold of and early returns are positive, but the reality is gaming in marketing is really about gaming the consumer into learning about and buying products.  And that will get old.  You know when you are watching a movie and stop paying attention for a moment to ask “Was that a product placement?”  It messes with the art.  Good promotional games are and can be successful, but I fear  turning loose coders and web marketers with hi-def gaming assignments will more often than not, detract from brand building. What would a Geico game look like? Exactly. Peace.  

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We love symmetry in our lives. We love it on our design. In our music. Symmetry is balance. Order. Brand planners like order and symmetry yet they also know a strategy must not be replicable. It must be unique. Others can lay claim to the “refreshment” strategy, but when Coca-Cola says it, it has unique meaning. Why? Because nothing refreshes like a Coca-Cola. It’s doesn’t own the word, it owns the idea. That’s due to the coca bean and a special highly guarded recipe. 

Many brand ideas are replicable as are many products (there just aren’t that many Coke’s out there), so the notion of creating an organizing principles in the form of “one idea supported by 3 brand planks” allows for that differentiation. It also allows a brand flexibility and the ability to cover new ground. Sameness is not symmetry. Geico is beginning to realize that. 

Campaigns come and go, a powerful branding idea is indelible. And supported by symmetry and smart brand planks, a brand plan can last many lifetimes. Peace.

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The movie John Carter cost a couple of hundred million to make and netted only $30 million its first weekend. Come se dog?  Disney made it and, I suspect, allowed it lots of free advertising on ABC-TV.  Promos for the movie were everywhere.  It was so overexposed most people felt they’d already seen the movie. Way too much advertising.

I’m not the demographic for the movie and roving 10 ton gorilla-dogs are not my thing but even so this movie would have done better at the box office had every person in America not seen an hour of promotional video. They out-Geicoed Geico this month.


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There’s an old marketing adage — okay, I just made it up – “The more times you say something the more consumers believe it.”  Hell, the more marketers themselves believes it.  Advertising agents take this notion and create campaigns around it.  Some campaigns last a long time (I can still sing the Good and Plenty song from my childhood), but most don’t.  Rote repetition in advertising is bad – it burns out.  That’s why, to coin a phrase, campaigns come and go.

There is a change management theory, espoused by the godfather of GE Jack Welch, suggesting change is best affected by making communications “relentless and boring.”  You can’t argue with Mr. Welch’s success so let’s say that one’s sacrosanct. It seems that many marketers and their agents also fall into this trap.  I understand relentless but when selling it has a negative connotation. Geico is relentless. There is clearly such a thing as too much selling. Advertisers need to be relentlessly on message, about that I would agree, but not baseball bat relentless with the pound, pound, pound of same ad frequency.  It’s boring. And off-putting. 

As for boring, there is never a place for it in marketing and certainly not in advertising.  Relentless creates boring…and boring creates boring. Two strikes.  

So here’s a guiding principle for marketers and agents. Find a brand strategy (a claim and supports), live it, message it, listen to it with your own ears, and enliven it — daily. Touch consumers with meted frequency, especially when they’re most willing, refresh those touches continuously, and do so without being boring. Easily typed, harder deployed.  That’s why they call it work. Peace!  

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